Crack the Sky has largely abandoned its artsy stance of past years and last night at the Bayou played some of the most intelligent and effective hard rock to be heard anywhere. Gone were the somewhat precious reverie passages; every song was built around a sturdy, irresistible guitar riff. The songs retained the sharply sketched lyrics and restless musical changes, but the anchoring unison riffs prevented the songs from drifting off course.

John Palumbo--lead singer, chief song writer, rhythm guitarist and only original member left--was the architect of these tough but smart songs. The best songs were the new ones: "Skin Diver," a playful erotic song powered by a rolling, surging guitar figure, and "Watch Out for the Working Boys," a blue-collar anthem with a proud swagger. Except for a long, shapeless jam during "Ice," this Baltimore-based quintet proved remarkably disciplined. They executed unison pauses and shifts flawlessly and even kept their solos within the established rhythm. The band's biggest limitation was Palumbo's voice, which lacked the resonant toughness of the instruments.

In the opening set, the Drive, a Washington area quartet, played the power chords of male teen fantasy rock with admirable togetherness but brought little personality to the vocals or arrangements. The Drive will headline at the Bayou tonight through Sunday.